Experts decode air pollution scare

Is air pollution a rich man's problem? Is it limited to big cities? Is the situation really alarming in Bihar? Panelists raised these pressing questions and unanimously vouched for urgent action to curb toxic air in the state while criticising authorities and lawmakers' "deliberate rebuttal" of a WHO report.

By S.M. Shahbaz in Patna
  • Published 8.07.18
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Dr Arvind speaks at the Ceed conference on Saturday. (Nagendra Kumar Singh)

Patna: Is air pollution a rich man's problem? Is it limited to big cities? Is the situation really alarming in Bihar? Panelists raised these pressing questions and unanimously vouched for urgent action to curb toxic air in the state while criticising authorities and lawmakers' "deliberate rebuttal" of a WHO report.

A recent list of world's most polluted cities, brought out by WHO, had ranked Gaya, Patna and Muzaffarpur at fourth, fifth and ninth positions.

At a programme organised by Centre for Environment and Energy Development (Ceed) on Saturday, experts discussed the findings of a report by Lancet, a scientific journal, on air pollution and its impact on health. The report says the magnitude of air pollution was critical in Bihar.

The research by Lancet says over 33 per cent of deaths in Bihar in 2016 (national figure nearly 27 per cent) occurred because of pollution-related diseases. Air pollution is now the second largest cause of pre-mature deaths in Bihar after cardio-vascular diseases. In the 1990s, air pollution was the third largest cause of such deaths in India.

Dr Arvind Kumar, chairman of the Centre for Chest Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, said: "Policy maker's reservations about the magnitude of the problem would only cost more and more lives in Bihar and the country. Instead of denying the scientific findings, the government should accept that it is a public emergency and take game-changer initiatives to reverse the trend."

While explaining the phenomenal impact of air pollution, Arvind said toxic air affects everybody, rich or poor, as every human breathes over 25,000 times daily. Whenever people step out of their houses they are exposed to hazardous levels of dust and smoke. So, 11 crore people in Bihar and 1.2 billion in India are at constant risk. "Besides respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, cardiovascular risks such as hypertension and stroke are most common among pollution-related diseases causing deaths in the state.

"The policymaker's mistaken belief that air pollution is only a problem in big cities needs to be changed," said Ankita, a senior programme officer with CEED. "Or Gaya, Patna and Muzaffarpur wouldn't be among the most polluted."

One of the panelist said "The deliberate rebuttal citing methodological errors is because of lack of sufficient data, which is because of inadequate monitoring of pollution levels. Notwithstanding the evidence on air pollution, the number of deaths because of pollution shows the situation is alarmingly catastrophic. Arvind said: "No government policy can resolve the problem unless there is people's participation. We appeal to people to take small steps, like using public transport instead of private vehicles to minimise the problem substantially."

Gangandeep Walia from Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon said the survey was conducted jointly by Lancet, Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and School of Medicine at mount Sinai in US. Over 100 independent researchers studied government data to assess number of deaths because of pollution.